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Wasted Workouts: Learning to Respect Your Body’s Ability to Recover

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By Richard J. Wolff, RDN

If I told you, your strength workout was a waste of time, you might think I was crazy! However, Strength Training without respecting your body’s ability to recover from intense muscular work can lead to wasted workouts. Wasted workouts don’t make you stronger or healthier. They do just the opposite.

Scientists have only recently begun understanding the delicate balance between a training stimulus (i.e., your workout) and strength gains (i.e., your recovery). Ignoring this balance makes it impossible to maintain a productive Strength Training schedule. Having little understating of this process, most people opt for the more is better approach to Strength Training. If some is good, more must be better! If this were true, you’d achieve superhuman results by training seven days week. Of course, this never happens.

The idea of achieving more by doing less can be hard to accept. In fact, some people view
overtraining (i.e., doing more than they need to do) as a badge of honor that demonstrates
their commitment to their workouts. Despite this nonsense, there’s a better way to
Strength Train. If your committed to living better and not overtraining, an evidence-based
low volume approach to Strength Training is a safer and smarter way to go! Here’s what
you need to know and do if you want to achieve more by doing less.

Think Full-Body

Full-body workouts strengthen all the major muscle groups (shoulders, arms, chest, back,
hips and legs). They are more efficient than split routines that typically require four or
more days of training per week.

Few people I’ve ever met have the inclination or time to strength train four to six days a week, an hour at a time, on a consistent basis. Fortunately, a properly designed full-body routine can be just as effective as a split routine while delivering greater health benefits. One of those benefits is a decrease in joint stress.

A typical full-body workout requires significantly fewer sets and repetitions than a split
workout. Such meaningful decreases in training volume effectively reduces the risk of
overuse injuries that are common among adults.

Health agencies including the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) have been advocating full-body workouts for years [1]. In their most current Exercise Guidelines, the ACSM states that having the option of an efficient full-body workout can provide flexibility within a training schedule and is likely to increase adherence to a Strength Training Program [2].

Think Stronger

Your strength workout is only effective if it makes your stronger! As obvious as this
sounds, many people overlook it. Some are satisfied with a strength workout that simply
burns calories. While it’s true that unproductive workouts burn calories, evaluating the effectiveness of a strength workout based on the calories it burns is a serious mistake. If
all your workout does is burn calories, it’s a waste of time.

According to exercise scientist, Dr. William Evans, Professor of Medicine at Duke University, burning calories is not a biomarker for health and longevity! In his book Biomarkers: The 10 Determinants of Aging You Can Control, Dr. Evans points out that strength is a leading biomarker for living a long, disease-free life [3]. He argues that all adults should be Strength Training
with the primary goal of becoming and staying stronger!

The only way to get stronger is to overload your muscular system. This can be achieved
by applying the Progressive Overload Principle to your training. This principle states that
you must challenge your muscles to do something they are unable to do, such as lifting
heavier weights. This stimulates your muscles to adapt, setting the stage for strength

The weight you are lifting should be heavy enough that you reach muscle failure
(i.e., the point where you are unable to complete the last repetition). If you’re not
reaching muscle failure, continue progressing to heavier weights until you get there. In
this case, muscle failure provides the optimal strength building stimulus!

Think Recovery

Once you’ve completed your workout, the next step is recovery. It’s the days between
workouts, that allow your muscles to become stronger and healthier. This process of
stimulating your muscles and giving them time to adapt is called overcompensation. It’s a
natural response to the stimulus of your workout.

The current ACSM Exercise Guidelines recommend at least two or more days of rest between strength workouts to allow for muscle recovery. Based on two MEDFITNESS Workouts per week, you should rest three to four days between workouts to maximize strength gains. For example, I Strength Train on Tuesdays and Fridays. This schedule provides my muscles enough time to recover and get stronger. Shortening the recovery process (i.e., working out a third time in seven
days) interferes with muscle adaptation and reduces the strength gains of your workout!

Without adequate recovery, you’ll always be underperforming in your workouts and in
life. Your muscles will never be as strong or healthy as they could be!

1. Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.
2. Guidelines for Exercise Testing and Prescription. American College of Sports
Medicine., Tenth Edition, 2018.
3. Rosenberg, I., Evans, W., Thompson, J., 1992. Biomarkers: The 10 Determinants
of Aging You Can Control. New York, NY. FIRESIDE.

MEDFITNESS is a Strength Training Studio specializing in On Demand Personal Training™.
Schedule a Free Trial Workout at 630-762-1784 or .